KpK logo

Kunsten på Kroppen
The art of tattooing

Photos of tattoos,
and presentation of:
Kai Uwe Faust
Patricia Campos
Marcus Hammer

About   Kunsten på Kroppen - Address and contact - Links - News and stories from earlier years -Also from Lejre 
About   Tattooing - FAQ - History - Literature - Questionnaire


About the Word Tattoo

From Tahiti comes the word: Tattoo!

The explorer Captain Cook came to Tahiti in the 1700-hundreds, and heard the natives call it "ta-tau". He brought the word to Europe.
He did make some mistakes though, when he put it down to English phonetics. For a long time it has been thought that the word related to the sound of the sticks that beats the colour into the skin. But new knowledge of the Tahitian language (Thanks to Michel Yieng Kow for the information.) tells us that it shall be spelled ta-ta-u.

The double ta-ta does not relate to the sound, but to an act that is done with your hand. U means colour.
A few examples: Ta-tara = to pull a thorn out, when you have been stung.
Ta-iri = to beat with your hand.
Ta-hiri = to use a fan made of laced palm leaves.
Ta-pu = to place something in your hand and make an offering (pu) to the gods, whereby it becomes holy - this has given the word Taboo!
Ta-hiri = to apply oil.

The repetitive ta-ta tells that you with your hands beat several (two) times, to get the colour u into the skin.
Thus: Tatau.

Other sources tells us that it may be more complicated. In Samoan the word tatau means "must, necessary, appropriate" - because it is necessary to get a tattoo in life.
In Samoan it may also mean Anchor. Maybe because it is necessary for a human being to be anchored to one's body. An anchor is the part of a pe'a called that is above the hips.
It is also called tatau on Tonga, and there it means a picture.
(Thanks to Ann Lindvall)

  Tahiti: Tatau  
Danish: Tatovering Norwegian: Tatovering Swedish: Tatuering
English: Tattoo German: Tätowierung French: Tatouage
Italian: Tatuággio Spanish: Tatuaje Dutch: Tatoeage
Brazilian: Tatuagem Finnish: Tatuointi Polish: Tatuaz
Hawaiian: Kakau Portuguese: Tatuagem Lithuanian: Tatiuruote
Estonian: tätoveering Inuktitut: Tunniit Slovenian: Tetoviranje
Turkish: Dövme Hungarian: Tetoválás Czech: Tetování
Romanian: Tatuaj Créol: Tatouaz  

Other languages:

Japanese: Irezumi / Horimono Icelandic: húðflúr Greenlandic: Kakiorneq
New Zealand (Maori): Moko Polynesia in general: Mana  

In Japanese
it is normally called Irezumi today (when they do not simply call it tattoo). The word consists of two parts: iru comes from the verb "To put in, bring in, stow in, admit, insert, etc.", and sumi means ink. Thus literally "inking".
The word Horimono comes from the verb horu that means " To engrave, puncture, incise, etc.", and the word mono that means "object or thing".

In Icelandic they are reluctant to incorporate foreign words, and will much rather say things in a new way using "normal" words. Húðflúr comes from the two words Húð, meaning skin and flúr, meaning decoration.

In Greenlandic
it is called Kakiorneq = to tattoo, tattooing
kakiornerit = tattooing (many stitches to a picture)
kakiortinneq = To be tattooed
kakiorpaa = stitching him, tattooing him
(Thanks to Buuti Pedersen)

As you may note, the word stems from the same as stitching or sewing. And that fits well with the fact that the old inuit technique was that they were "sewing" the tattoos on. A thread was dipped in colour (soot from the whale-oil lamps), and by help from a needle, dragging it through the skin. That way a trace was made. By repeating the process, they could draw a line.

In this photo of a Greenlandic mummy, it is easy to see the "stitches" from the tattoo process. You can see more about Inuit tattooing under the History of Tattooing.


If anyone out there knows the word for tattooing in any other language
- I would be grateful if you sent us an e-mail.



Kunsten på Kroppen
Rådhusstræde 15 - 1466 København K - Denmark
+45 - 33 14 48 26